More Funds Allocated to Support Healthy Weight Research for Children with Autism

August 09, 2021

Less Physical Activity, Food Selectivity, and Poor Sleep Can Contribute to Weight Issues

The rise in childhood obesity rates has been in the national spotlight for the past two decades. Despite the increased focus on this topic, limited attention has been paid to the unique risk factors and effects experienced by children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)  and other developmental disabilities (DD). Addressing this gap in knowledge is the reason the Health Resources and Services Administration/Maternal Child Health Bureau has given UMass Medical School five more years of funding. Through a $1.25 million grant, the school will support new and ongoing efforts to promote healthy weight for children with ASD and/or DD. One of those efforts is the Healthy Weight Research Network, whose goal is to combine the knowledge and talents of a diverse group of researchers to gain more understanding and address the biopsychosocial aspects of obesity, among children with ASD and/or DD. The aim of this network is to develop evidence-based solutions to achieve a healthy weight in this population and to disseminate research findings to broad and diverse audiences. Researchers at UMass have suggested that children with ASD and/or DD have a greater risk of being overweight (and sometimes underweight) than children without those disorders because they often engage in less physical activity. This inactivity may be related to the challenges of having social, behavioral, sensory, and intellectual impairments. Taking weight-inducing medications, food selectivity, and poor sleep may also contribute to an increased risk of an unhealthy weight. 

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